Alcoholism's Impact on Family in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

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In “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” the addiction of alcohol falls hard on the father Johnny. This novel even shows how alcohol is hard for the family to handle and how the alcohol is hurting the family.Exploring the use of alcohol,the effects of how alcohol is bad for your body and can end in death, and how alcohol can be detrimental to the family life in the novel “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”. The alcohol that is portrayed in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”demonstrates, the unfamiliarity of alcohol abuse and how family lives are affected due to it.

Although in some cases of substance abuse that researchers have found, you will find that in history mostly celebrities will fall into the addiction category. Lathan states, “Numerous celebrities of the past half-century have been plagued with substance abuse problems, with disastrous results” (Lathan, Celebrities and Substance Abuse). The use of alcohol can also be found in cases were people of a lower income class struggle with alcoholism.

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The Nolan family, who lives in more of a lower income residence,could be a cause and is possibly the reason of the problem with the fathers drinking addiction. Is Johnny’s drinking problem more about him being immature or is it just he who is abandoning his family for alcohol? “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn “plot starts to take place in the summer of 1912. The family does not do all that well with money. Francie who is the daughter is the older of the two.

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Neeley was born a year after Francie and he ends up becoming the favorite child to Katie. While this book starts to take place in the summer of 1912 it also takes us back to before the children were born and before the drinking addiction. During this relapse in time we get to see how Johnny and Katie first meet. They both were working as janitors for a public school. Then they realize that Katie is pregnant. This is when Johnny’s addiction really begins because he was becoming undependable and weak. Even though Johnny was spiraling down hill Katie decides to take the struggles and fight so that she can live a happy life. Johnny’s drinking addiction becomes worse and worse as the years go on and the Nolan family has to move out of their home because of Johnny’s twenty-first birthday binge and this brings shame to the Nolan family. As Francie starts to get older she is becoming more aware of her body and the growth of it as well as becoming more aware of her fathers drinking problem as he is coming home more often drunk. Johnny is becoming more worthless with bringing home money for the family. He is then dismissed from the Union and this puts Johnny completely over the edge. While all of this is happening we find out that Katie is pregnant again and this just makes Johnny unstable and he starts to drink even more. Johnny then passes away just five months before the birth of another daughter. The death of Francie’s father has a huge role in how she becomes who she is. Francie and really the entire Nolan family overcome a vast amount of problems through their lives. With Francie going of to college she is able to try and become successful with her life so that she never has to remember the terrible times that she has lived through.

In “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” you get to see how abusing alcohol can end up in serious inner body injury or death. Johnny is the prime suspect in this case because he is the one that is abusing alcohol and he is the one that unfortunately ends up dying from the abuse of alcohol.

Nobody should lose a family member due to an addiction such as alcoholism. Not only that, but dealing with a family member or relative that abuses alcohol is just simply not a fun time. The reason for reading this novel is not just to get exposure towards alcoholism but in order to show the reader that they can overcome a substance problem within a family, as Orford states, “This common core of experience consisted of: finding the problem ‘user’ unpleasant to be with; experiencing financial irregularities and difficulties; being concerned over the user’s health or performance; concern about what the problem is doing to the whole family and the home; experiencing personal anxiety or worry; feeling helpless or despairing; and feeling low or depressed” (Orford 762). If you are able to find the problem, get informed with what that problem is, then you have the capability to help that person turn their life around. The reason that the author of this novel decided to go with a novel instead of some other type of writing is because with the novel you can give a background of the family and then tell the story that leads up to something that happens and then continue the story in order to see what happens at the end. The reason readers read novels is to get the full effect of what is going on and they can picture themselves there, unlike with other types of writings that are short and to the point. People just do not get the same experience if you were to read something else over a novel. In “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” Johnny’s alcohol problem is becoming more and more alarming to the family. All of these irregularities and difficulties can be seen. Alcohol can be very detrimental to a family and can cause family members to do things that they would not ever think about unless being intoxicated and this causes so much stress and strain on the family. Alcohol can be good and fun in some doses but abusing alcohol, just is not the right thing to do.

Exploring the use of alcohol in literary worksincluding the novel “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” can really open your eyes up to what authors were trying to get at in their works. The use of alcohol was not really taught to the young people. Alcohol in literary works was not educating to those reading the novel. This would have helped Francie with her knowledge of alcoholism if at this time there were novels telling young people about the problem. Francie and Katie were very big on reading, if there would have been a noveltalking about the abuse of alcoholFrancie could have read it and helped her father try and get over his addiction. Betty Smith states, “From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood…On the day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived” (Smith 106). There is a novel called John Barleycorn, which is written by Jack London and the novel is about him recounting his own life. People would often say that this novel is fiction because people didn’t think that an author could say some of the heart wrenching things that have occurred in their own life and then were able to put it in to a novel.

What he was saying in his novel was in fact true. Tony and Richard state, “The fact that it is indeed autobiography adds weight to its anti-drinking message and credibility to the writer’s condemnation of the social context of drinking in that period” (Cellucci and Larsen 70). The time period of this was in the era of World War I. Just as “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” was also published around the same era of World War I. If there was any type of literary works written in this time period maybe Francie would have gotten her hands on it and she could have tried to help her father with his addiction to alcohol. Even though the death of her father changed her life, maybe if she could have helped stop him from his addiction that he would have changed his life around and could have bettered the family. The problem with being a alcoholic is that you can’t really take care of yourself, you are always a mess and drunk. Betty Smith quotes, “Oh, God, don’t send me anymore children or I won’t be able to look after Johnny and I’ve got to look after Johnny. He can’t look after himself” (Smith 51). Being an alcoholic causes you to not fully focus on the important things in life and like that quote states Johnny can’t take care of himself.

He can’t do this because he is constantly drunk and just a mess.

Alcoholism can be due to the fact that things in your life are not going, as you would want them to. When Johnny realizes that he is going to be a father he starts to get stressed out because him and Katie do not have the money in order to support a family. They are just two people who work as janitors and they are not a wealthy couple. After learning about a child coming into his life he turns to alcohol. People who drink alcohol usually experience a vast amount of different feelings while intoxicated and those people often drink to try and get away from their problems.

Steele and Josephs stated, “Nearly everyone experienced effects like these from drinking alcohol -a forgetting of worries, a relief from anxiety over upcoming events, intensified positive mod, and so on. It is thus easy to imagine that these effects of alcohol constitute an important basis of addictive drinking” (Steele and Josephs 196).Johnny starts to realize that drinking alcohol is his way of getting to be happy and getting away from all of the stress that is consuming him. After awhile of doing this he just gets addicted to the feeling of not having to worry about anything or stress out about anything. This leads to his addictive abuse of alcohol throughout the book. In “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” Johnny is struggling with his chosen career path of a young Irish singer-waiter. Johnny was struggling with trying to get money for the family. He was having a hard time trying to provide the little things for his family to be happy. Julie M Irwin states, “Fitzgerald himself blamed it (Drinking Problem) on a number of things – declining book sales, a disastrous screen writing career, Zelda’s madness, and a continual lack of money” (Irwin 415).Even though Fitzgerald was a celebrity during his time, he had a drinking problem that resulted in his death in 1940. He was struggling with money issues as well as following his dream of trying to be a successful screenwriter. Just as Francie’s dad Johnny was a dreamer and he wanted to go somewhere with his singing career and try and be successful in order to make his family happy, but he wasn’t getting anywhere with his career. Smith wrote, “Katie had a fierce desire for survival, which made her a fighter. Johnny had a hankering after immortality, which made him a useless dreamer. And that was the great difference between these two who loved each other so well” (Smith 61). Johnny had big dreams that were hard to reach and it stressed him out a great deal.He then decided to resort to drinking in order to try and not be reminded of how he was failing his family by not being able to support them.

In “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” the amount of alcohol that Johnny consumes is starting to make its presence known within the family life.Johnny’s alcohol problem causes him to not always be a good father to his children and his wife. His daughter Francie loves Johnny more than his wife Katie loves him, which is due to his over use of alcohol as well as him not bringing home money to help support the family as Smith states, “Maybe that decision was her great mistake. She should have waited until some man came along who felt that way about her. Then her children would not have gone hungry; she would not have had to scrub floors for their living and her memory of him would have remained a tender shining thing. But she wanted Johnny Nolan and no one else and she set out to get him” (Smith 36). People try and deal with emotional situations in many different ways, and that can include a vast amount of substance use. Some situations may include drinking alcohol and going out partying to try and get over difficult times.

Alcoholism can be defined between different genders as well. Peter states, “While Joan may have learned drinking etiquette from her parents, she learns how to drink from Richard” (Donahue 6). In “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” Johnny is trying to be a father but is always drunk and this quote had me thinking that you can learn to drink from your family members and that this could ruin the children’s lives if they were to follow in their fathers footsteps. This can cause families to continuously argue and fight over the littlest things. All of the drinking and arguing with your family will have an affect on the children and they will possible start to consider drinking because they are following their role models as well as they are trying to get away from their problems just as how Johnny started heavily drinking. In “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” Johnny is abusing alcohol and it is making it harder and more stressful for the children and for Katie. Due to his alcohol problem Katie is slipping with her love for her husband Johnny. After awhile of constant substance abuse, family members and friends may decide not to interact with you because as Jim Orford states, “A further premise is that the stress for family members that is associated with an alcohol or drug problem prompts family members to attempt ways of coping, and that these moderate the relationship between stress and strain for relatives” (Orford 762).

Taking a step back from someone that has a substance abuse problem can be a coping way that works but in other cases it can hurt the user because they have more problems and they drink more to try and cover those problems up. Thisrelates to the book because in the book the characters have to find ways to try and cope with their father’s alcohol problem. Although at such a young age the children don’t understand Johnny’s problem but as the children grow older they start to see how much he is drinking and how often he is drunk. Even though Francie still loves her dad, Katie is the one that is slipping away. The alcohol abuse that Johnny has is putting a lot of stress on the family because the family had to move from an apartment because of Johnny’s binge. Betty Smith writes, “It’s come at last…the time when you can no longer stand between your children and heartache… they walk out in all innocence and they walk right into the grief that you’d give your life to spare them” (Smith 302). Johnny would do anything to make his family happy and that’s all he wants to do is to make his family happy but since he is having trouble making money and already not being wealthy, he is stressed. He loves his family but it is just hard for him to support them.

In “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” we get the understanding of how many things can affect a family. More importantly how the use and abuse of alcohol can make a family struggle. The alcohol that is portrayed in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn “shows how family lives can be affected due to alcohol, and how alcohol is just simply bad for the abusers. As this paper is coming to a close, people get to see the truth and actuality of what alcohol can do to people and their loved ones. From just simply reading this book you can see how much things change due to Johnny and his love for alcohol. Not only in this book do you see a person die from abusing alcohol but also in the real world you can see this happen. How would you handle something like this going on within your family? It is tough. It is basically like you are stuck in a bind and you have no clue what to do or even think about. This happens across the world everyday, people facing issues with families and loved ones simply due to the satisfaction of being intoxicated. Truthfully it has to be the most selfish thing that people can be doing now a days. A lot of the points that are made here and in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” go hand to hand with how alcohol hurts families, or how abusing such a substance for such a long will possibly end up in the loss of life. Is it worth it? All of this, the excessive amount of taking all of your frustration out on a bottle of liquor and after that when you are intoxicated you take it out on your family. Just think about that question. Alcohol in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” has no bounds.


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Alcoholism's Impact on Family in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. (2022, Apr 06). Retrieved from

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